Thomas Popelka III (Tommy, Tom) was born June 25, 1940 to Tom Popelka Jr. and
Alice Ruth Popelka at the King’s Daughters Hospital in Temple, Texas. The Lord
promoted him to glory on Sunday, November 19, 2023.
Tommy went to Vanderver Elementary School, Central Jr. High and graduated
from Temple High School in 1958. At Temple High, he lettered in football and
track for the Wildcats.
In the summer of 1957 while playing miniature golf with some friends at the old
Riverside pool complex, he noticed a beautiful girl playing with a group of her
friends. The moment he saw Lynda Irene Juroska something clicked that she was
the one for him.
Upon bragging to his friends that he was going to get a date with her, he was
readily informed that she would never date him. His friends even bet him a dollar
that Lynda would turn him down. Not only did he get a date with her, but the
dollar winnings helped pay for it.
They married July 1, 1960, and celebrated 63 years of marriage. Tommy always
said that next to the gift of salvation, she was God’s greatest gift to him.
After marrying the love of his life, Tommy attended Temple Jr. College, where he
earned his associates degree in 1961. While attending TJC, he lettered in track
two years and acted as co-editor of the TJC Leopard.
Tommy later attended The University of Texas where he received a BBA degree in
Marketing with a minor in Sales Management. In 1964, in a national competition,
he was awarded the National Food Brokers scholarship.
Upon graduation Tommy worked at Foley’s Department Store in Houston in their
Executive Program. His first promotion was the Stationary Department which
included managing the Christmas Shop. Soon thereafter he was promoted to
assistant buyer for the Men’s Department. Then this led to his promotion as
Group Sales Manager for the new Foley’s branch opening in Almeda-Genoa where
he was responsible for one-fourth of the store.
In the Fall of 1964, Tommy experienced a dramatic conversion experience that
would alter the course of his life. Because of this experience, he felt God’s call to
In 1967 Tommy resigned from Foley’s and moved his family to New Orleans
where he enrolled in New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. He graduated
with a Master of Theology with an emphasis on Greek and Hebrew.
While in seminary he pastored Cullomburg Baptist Church in Cullomburg,
Alabama. Even in this rural setting the church grew and prospered.
His next pastorate was at Fairview Baptist Church in Fairfax (now Valley),
Alabama. During his service as pastor the church grew and witnessed the
completion of the building of a new educational wing.
Later, Tommy was called as pastor of Navco Baptist in Mobile, Alabama. In one
year Tom had the opportunity to baptize 117 converts.
Afterwards, First Baptist Church in Bossier City, Louisiana called Tommy as
Associate Pastor where he was in charge of evangelism and the bus ministry. The
bus ministry experienced such phenomenal growth that he conducted
conferences concerning bus ministries for other churches.
His next move was to West Oakey Baptist Church in Las Vegas, Nevada. In 1974,
Christian Life Magazine named West Oakey the fastest growing Sunday School in
the State of Nevada of all denominations. Tom flew to Detroit along with 49 other
pastors who also led their respective States in Sunday School growth. While
serving as pastor for 5 1/2 years West Oakey saw exceptional growth with at least
200 people joining the church each year and experiencing a doubling of the
budget. Later, West Oakey would relocate and change their name to Shadow Hills
and is the largest SBC church in Nevada.
Billy Graham would conduct two crusades in Las Vegas. The first one in 1976, Tom
was on the Executive Committee as well as Youth Director for the whole crusade.
After the service on the last night of the crusade, Billy Graham walked up to Tom
and said, “I’d like to say something to you.” Tom was excited as he thought about
what Billy Graham would say. Dr. Graham bluntly stated, “you wear the loudest
suits and sportscoats of any preacher I have ever seen.” This was one of Tommy’s
favorite stories over the years.
In 1978, Tom was elected Chairman of the State Constitutional Convention in
which Nevada would become the 34 th state with membership in the Southern
Baptist Convention. However, serious allergy problems subsequently forced
Tommy to move back to Texas, where he would pastor the following five years.
Later, a friend he made during his time at seminary called Tommy and asked him
to go with him on a mission trip to Guatemala followed by mission trips to
Honduras and the Philippines. Soon thereafter Tom and Lynda prayed and felt
the calling to enter full-time missionary evangelism, the beginning of the great
adventure that God planned for Tom and Lynda.
In 1983, after answering the call into full-time evangelism Tom was invited to
participate in the Billy Graham International Conference for Itinerant Evangelists
in Amsterdam. He was one of 50 out of all denominations in the US that were
invited. Cliff Barrows introduced him to all of the Presidents of the Baptist Unions
behind the Iron Curtain and encouraged them to use him in ministry.
This experience with the conference enabled him to be the nightly evangelist for a
week-long convention for the 100 th anniversary of Baptist work in Czechoslovakia.
He and Lynda would make several trips behind the Iron Curtain in Czechoslovakia
Early in the international ministry, Tom led many large crusades in several
countries with large numbers responding to receive salvation through Christ. The
limited commitment of follow-up with these new converts troubled him, and he
felt the new believers were not being discipled. Around 1990, Tom was drawn to
work with only local churches to train and disciple local pastors as the heart of his
His trips took him all over the world. He traveled to over 60 countries, preaching
and evangelizing in Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Belize, Nicaragua and
Brazil. He ministered in several of these countries 10 times or more.
In 1991, Tom was the first person to get religious material into Cuba since Castro
took power. He helped train pastors by teaching in their Seminary during his 12
trips there. He supplied a lot of religious material as well. A song book was
dedicated to him by the seminary.
He also preached in Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, Ghana, Japan, Estonia, Philippines,
Hong Kong, Macau, Indonesia, India, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Hungary, and Russia.
He made numerous trips to several of these countries with nearly 50 visits to
He concentrated his ministry in the State of Kurgan, in Siberia, Russia. Tom
Popelka Ministries founded 15 churches plus several missions, including
orphanages and a drug rehab center. TPM continues supporting pastors and has
assisted with the purchase of several cars and church buildings.
Ministering in foreign lands enabled Tom and Lynda to see some of the wonders
of the world, including the pyramids at Gaza, the Red Rock City of Petra, and
Machu Pichu. Tom also visited Christ of the Andes in Rio and the Taj Majal.
Although his passion was international missions, Tom preached at revival
meetings in many churches across the South and Southwestern States.
Tom finished his pastoral ministry at Buckholts Evangelical Brethren Church which
he considered an added blessing from the Lord as his days grew shorter.
Tom was an avid collector of B-Western memorabilia, having one of the largest
collections in the U.S. at one time. Except Roy Rogers, he met all of the B-
Western stars including some silent western stars. He also enjoyed solving the
NYT crossword puzzles.
He had a sense of humor that was always working, though some considered it to
be a little “off.” He seemed to have a joke for every occasion.
Left to celebrate his memory and his values are Lynda, his beloved wife of 63
years. He is survived by his sons Thomas IV and wife Norisbel, Drew, and James
Denton. His 7 grandchildren are Kaitlin Wallace (Keith), Dakota, Haley, and Alyssa
Popelka, Caleb, Micah, and Blake Popelka, and also one great granddaughter Ellie
Memorial contributions may be made to Tom Popelka Ministries, 4706 Spanish
Oak Road, Temple, TX 76502.
Arrangements are under the direction of Sabrina Young at Young's Daughters Funeral Home & Bereavement Center.